PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAQ

21 January 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAQ

21 January 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by Secretary-General’s special Representative for iraq

With heightened security in the “red zone” of Baghdad and on its streets, a drastic drop in violence, good economic growth prospects and a warming of political relations between the majority Shiite and minority Sunni religious groups, the chances for a stable and unified Iraq were encouraging, Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for that country, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Violent acts had decreased 60 per cent from July and August to September and October, he said, noting that the Shiite ritual of Ashura had ended peacefully in Kerbala over the past weekend, thanks to tightened security put in place to protect around 2.5 million pilgrims.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expected Iraq’s economy to grow 7 per cent this year and daily oil production to increase by 200,000 barrels.

He said the new de-baathification law was awaiting ratification and serious discussions were under way concerning the reintegration of Sunnis into public office in order to ensure a Government of National Unity.  Moreover, the United Nations had a strong presence in Iraq and was now involved in resolving internal border disputes in the north.  The Organization would also be engaged in future elections.  “All of this is good news but it needs to be sustained by political activities and dialogue among the Iraqis.”  Other legislation needed to be approved, included laws on oil-resource sharing, provincial elections and amnesty.  Economic sustainability was vital and must trickle down to all Iraqis, many of whom lacked basic social services, electricity, water and sanitation.

Mr. De Mistura said he was encouraged by the efforts of Iraqi and Kurdish officials to work together in the past month and those of other stakeholders to resolve the territorial dispute over Kirkuk.  The 31 December timetable for a referendum on that city’s status in accordance with article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution had not been met due to technical and logistical reasons, but the parties involved had asked the United Nations to provide technical support during the next six months on Kirkuk and other disputed areas in the north, and possibly the south as well.

“To allow the UN to be the technical supporter to ensure there would be progress on that through dialogue -- not through violence, not through brinkmanship -- for us was a demonstration of the maturity which the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities and other stakeholders have reached when confronted with a situation of that kind, and an indication that perhaps we can do that elsewhere as well,” the Special Representative added.

He went on to say that the Iraqi people were tired of violence and that the increased support of the United Nations and coalition forces on the ground to assist internally displaced persons were encouraging, as were the efforts of the 73,000 civilians who had formed the so-called “Awakening Councils” to help fight Al-Qaida, the ceasefire declared by Moqtada al-Sadr and the advisory role Iranian officials were playing to ease tensions and encourage dialogue.

Asked whether trust would be restored this year between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni populations, he said both sides must develop that trust, pointing out that dialogue between them was growing, particularly in recent days.  There were strong rumours of very strong discussions between Sunnis and the Shiite-led Government over reintegrating Sunnis into a Government of National Unity.  “There is no alternative.  They have to find a way and we will try to help them to do so.”

He added that, while Iraqis had largely identified themselves with a particular religious group or party during the recent two elections and referendum -– the first held in many years -– they were increasingly voicing their commitment to a unified nation.  “When you talk to them about sovereignty, they are all Iraqis.”

Asked about the importance of the new United Nations headquarters in Iraq, he said the General Assembly would consider in March a proposal for a larger, more integrated and well-protected headquarters in Baghdad, which was needed to better assist the Iraqis to adjust to the changing reality on the ground.  The United Nations was taking many precautions to protect its staff in Iraq, among them the Secretary-General’s son-in-law.  The Organization had learned from the tragedy of the August 2003 bombing of its Baghdad offices.

As for the role of Fijian peacekeepers in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), he said Fiji had a long tradition of participating in United Nations peacekeeping and its soldiers were doing an outstanding job.  A source of pride for the Organization, the Fijian contingent was helping to protect the three United Nations locations in Iraq, including the Special Representative’s residence.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.